Deli bal

I was sure I’d posted on this topic before, but a search is yielding no joy, so here goes nuthin’.  I first ran across ‘mad honey;’, aka deli bal in Turkey, while reading about Apis dorsata laboriosa – the Himalayan giant honeybee. A few years ago Andrew Newey’s photographs of Gurung honey hunters were everywhere on the internet.

Below is a video from NatGeo of folks from a different group, the Kulung, harvesting honey. I especially like this for two reasons: it’s a 360 degree shot and it breaks the outdoor videographer’s 4th wall – there is a photographer in frame, roped up. I encourage you to watch it full screen and pan liberally.

Many of the posts on the photos noted that springtime honey is psychoactive. It’s because the bees are visiting rhododendrons, and rhododendrons produce grayanotoxins.

Physical symptoms from grayanotoxin poisoning appear after a dose-dependent latent period of several minutes to approximately three hours. The most common clinical symptoms include various cardiovascular effects, nausea and vomiting, and a change in consciousness. The cardiovascular effects may include hypotension (low blood pressure) and various cardiac rhythm disorders such as sinus bradycardia (slow regular heart rhythm), bradyarrhythmia (slow irregular heart rhythm) and partial or complete atrioventricular block.*

Note the mention of low blood pressure. One of mad honey’s uses, at least in Turkey, is to enhance sexual performance. Oh, yes. Turkey… Nepal is one place with rhododendron forests

Rhododendron Forest

and the Black Sea coast of Turkey, where Rhododendron ponticum grows, is another. There’s also a very interesting falconry tradition in that area, but that’s for another day.

Why a mad honey post now? I’m re-reading Gore Vidal’s Creation and his narrator, Cyrus Spitama (grandson of Zoroaster), tosses off an offhand comment referencing it.

Mr. Vidal is way more well-read than I, but this reference isn’t a deep dive; there are many classical accounts of mad honey poisoning. My favorite is Xenophon, because it is from the Anabasis, a rippin’ yarn in its own right and the story that The Warriors is based on.

After accomplishing the ascent the Greeks took up quarters in numerous villages, which contained provisions in abundance. Now for the most part there was nothing here which they really found strange; but the swarms of bees in the neighbourhood were numerous, and the soldiers who ate of the honey all went off their heads, and suffered from vomiting and diarrhoea, and not one of them could stand up, but those who had eaten a little were like people exceedingly drunk, while those who had eaten a great deal seemed like crazy, or even, in some cases, dying men. So they lay there in great numbers as though the army had suffered a defeat, and great despondency prevailed. On the next day, however, no one had died, and at approximately the same hour as they had eaten the honey they began to come to their senses; and on the third or fourth day they got up, as if from a drugging. *

I’ll end with a picture of a walk I took with friends almost exactly a year ago from Van Cortland Park to Coney Island, hitting many of the shooting locations that the movie iteration of The Warriors used.

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Thálatta! Thálatta!

Soylent, alienation and what’s the point anyway?

This rantlet flows out of Nicola Twilley’s excellent post on Aeon, Freedom from food. Go ahead and read it – I’ll wait. <hums tunelessly> Ok, then. I’ll assume that you’re familiar with Soylent (vc) (as opposed to Soyent (hh) or Soylent (it’s peeeopleeee)). Also please take as given that though I’m going to come across as a bit of a purist and perhaps holier than thou, I am neither of those things (I hope). I don’t cook everything I eat from scratch with ingredients I’ve grown or gathered myself – far from it. If nothing else, that’d keep me away from Kittery and a couple of my favorite restaurants. I may even eat too many burritos and falafel wraps – being pressed for time and not wanting to cook is a situation I am completely familiar with.

That being said, I find Soylent(vc) repulsive. It seems to me to embody a lot of what is wrong with our (developed West) trajectory both externally, in our relations with each other and the greater world, and internally, as we try to find some personal meaning as we hang out in this vale of tears.

It’s tough to imagine a more industrialized foodstuff than Soylent. Nicola touches on the length of the supply chain – Australian wool -> factory in Sichuan -> vitamin D2 -> Soylent – and there’s the reductive nutritional fetishism, too. The idea that food is no more than a list of chemicals in the proper quantities and proportions is one that Michael Pollan has argued against, effectively as far as I’m concerned. But there it is – standardization – where it’s at if you are going to manufacture fully industrialized food. Soylent is also having a go at being a fully alienated food. It tries to render invisible its origin in and connection to the world of non-human life (<thinks about the movie and laughs>).

This is perhaps Soylent’s most significant failing: food is the primary means by which we embody and enact our shifting, species-shaping relationship with natural world. Soylent represents an impossible wish to terminate that relationship entirely, to the impoverishment of both sides. *

In spite of the extent to which Western agriculture can be characterized as a way of turning fossil hydrocarbons, in the form of fertilizer, fuel and pesticides, into food, at base it still depends, it ALL depends, on photosynthesis. Knowledge of the way energy flows from the sun to plants to, perhaps, chickens or mushrooms or bees should help us situate ourselves in the web of things; Soylent attempts to efface that understanding. Industrialization has given us many good things, but not everything can or should be industrialized. Yes, I’m familiar with big farms. And yes, I’m familiar with inexpensive (and cheap) food. There’s a continuum here and Soylent is so far out on one of the tails of the distribution it’s not funny.

Soylent also alienates us from ourselves – from our senses and our physical being. It’s fuel. Pour it down fast and free up some time! But “I” am not separate from my body; fatigue, exertion, hot peppers – they all affect my ‘mind’. My senses, though they lie to me, are how I know the world – they are my ways in and out. Are my senses of taste and smell and touch so unimportant that I can toss them over the side when it come to an activity – eating – that keeps me alive? And the recent understanding of each of us as colonial beings – human plus gut biome (plus other communities) – the notion that ‘we’ll fix the bacterial ecosystem disaster in rev 2’ leaves me cold. This personal alienation is one of the many ways I think Soylent has gotten it pretty much perfectly backwards. The point is to enjoy your time to the best of your ability, not to eschew pleasure in favor of time on task. Because that’s the other thing that’s going on here – one frees up time by subsisting on Soylent to do what, exactly? You’ll forgive me if I assume ‘to work more hours’ is one of the choices. Again, don’t get me wrong – the points made about women’s (uncompensated/unvalued) time spent preparing food are well taken. I want more time. More free time. For everyone. More time to cook, if that’s what one wants to do, or to gather or garden, or to walk or to whistle or to hang around a cafe drinking coffee. And I want more ‘present’ time – time when I’m aware and appreciative of the taste of the hot coffee or the smell of the dry goldenrod underfoot or the sound of the catbird in the brush. Soylent seems to me to be the antithesis of being present.

I’m going to end with a quote from another good piece: David Graeber’s What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?

Why do animals play? Well, why shouldn’t they? The real question is: Why does the existence of action carried out for the sheer pleasure of acting, the exertion of powers for the sheer pleasure of exerting them, strike us as mysterious? What does it tell us about ourselves that we instinctively assume that it is? *

Life is for living.

(vc) is my little joke. I see Soylent as flowing out of startup/VC ‘culture’ (such as it is).

White Faced Ibis meets Peregrine Falcon

I heard about this clip today at Discover Wild New Hampshire Day. White Faced Ibis are uncommon in New England – to see an Ibis predated by a Peregrine and to be rolling tape at the same time? Buy a lottery ticket. I’m with the guy who says, “Can somebody else be really excited about this?”

“Mike Blust’s ornithology class from Green Mountain College, Poultney, VT, gets to see white-faced ibis (rare in Massachusetts) and the realities of nature. The falcon itself had a damaged left eye. It had been making passes at the ibis for about 10 minutes before this happened.”

Frogger’s BBQ 2010 edition

It was last weekend and it was great. A few pictures:





My BBQ flickrset is here and some other photos are here.

Also making an appearance was an ordnance-grade veggie – the ghost pepper.  Small pieces were eaten by brave souls, but I did not sample. I enjoy hot food, but any pepper that causes your eyes to start to tear from two feet away will have to wait (a long time). Apparently, once you get past the initial shock, you get a pretty good endorphin rush.

Cherry Crisp

I’m posting this as a memory aid for myself and as info for you, dear reader. I’m getting closer to a really good cherry crisp – this is where I ended up with the last batch of the season’s cherries:

  • Start with this recipe.
  • Double the cherry qty – I used almost 5 cups. Lowball the sugar – fat 3/4 cup to scant 1 cup.
  • Add some almonds to the topping after the butter’s been incorporated (that would be a metric ‘some’, not an English ‘some’).
  • More almonds on top of the topping.
  • 9″ square baking pan.

Now, THAT was a good day

Wow – that was fun. Up early to run dogs and then off to the southwestern corner of NH, where the cacti and mesas frolic (or not). First stop was at Callahan & Co. Booksellers to sell some dupe/no longer needed sporting books. Hard to imagine, but I came out of Mr. Callahan’s barn upside down (I spent more than he paid me).



From there to the Toadstool in Peterborough to see the Noted Nature Writer do a talk and book signing event. I got there early, so first I had some pie for breakfast:


And did a little looking around:


The talk was wonderful – from there the posse went to Deering where I helped put new bracelets on a gos, much hawking was talked and I met more interesting people. Back home, another dog run – they’re all fast asleep now – and that’s it for me!

The San Bartolo murals

Back in 2001, William Saturno found the San Bartolo murals.

When archaeologist William Saturno went to Guatemala six years ago, nothing worked out the way he planned. None of the local guides could take him to see the carved monuments he wanted to research, leaving him with nothing to do.

“Not being particularly good at sitting around and twiddling my thumbs,” Saturno says, he decided to investigate a rumor that three hieroglyphic Maya monuments had been uncovered by looters in the jungle nearby.

According to the map, Saturno and his guides could reach the monument site by driving forty kilometers and then trekking on foot through the jungle. At the beginning of the road that would take them to the site, however, Saturno’s team encountered a sign that read “Camino en mal estado.” The sign itself was falling apart, Saturno says. “That should have been an indication of what we were in for.”

After an arduous, twenty-two-hour journey, the group finally arrived at the San Bartolo site, which wasn’t the one they were looking for. Exhausted and dehydrated, Saturno ducked into a looter’s trench to escape the oppressive heat. “I shone my flashlight up on the wall,” he says, “and there was the mural.” *

I’ve heard him describe the trip and apparently “exhausted and dehydrated” is an understatement.

One of the Peabody Museum’s current exhibits is “Storied Walls: Murals of the Americas“; two walls of one room are devoted to the San Bartolo murals. There are some photos of the murals, but what held my interest were the 2 digital scan+watercolor recreations by Heather Hurst. Absolutely amazing – religious sequential art.

I’m going to post a couple thumbnails here, but no slide show. If you’de like to see more, please click through to my Flickrset – I’ve annotated some of the picture and all of them ought to be seen BIG.

Bloodletting was an important ritual practice. Stingray spines were used: women – tongues, men – foreskins (at least that’s what the plaque said – looks a little far back to me).



NPR’s Talk of the Nation on San Bartolo here. I have a video tour of the site stashed somehere – if I find it, I’ll post a link.

UpdateVideo here. You may have to download and play it locally – it played fine for me under Windows using VLC.

Thinking about fall

“One should not talk to a skilled hunter about what is forbidden by the Buddha” -Hsiang-yen


A gray fox, female, nine pounds three ounces.
39 5/8″ long with tail.
Peeling skin back (Kai
reminded us to chant the Shingyo first)
cold pelt. crinkle; and musky smell
mixed with dead-body odor starting.

Stomach content: a whole ground squirrel well chewed
plus one lizard foot
and somewhere from inside the ground squirrel a bit of aluminum foil.

The secret.
and the secret hidden deep in that.

– Gary Snyder